Alchemy: reflections on a National Science Week exhibition


A Big Red?

A Big Red?



As an ordinary scientist, not well-versed in art theory or appreciation, I decided to visit the Alchemy art exhibition at Adelaide's Science Exchange.

The visit in itself was an experiment in that I intended to measure my own naive responses to works of art about which I knew nothing.

What I found was thought-provoking.


The technical elements of wine flavour are translated into a visual syntax by a mystical alchemical process to create works of art

Red Wine Just as the ancient alchemists believed there were four elements, earth, water, air, and fire, so did Carol Perkins identify the four elements of wine sensation: acidity, tannins, alcohol and flavour.

As a non-specialist, she has worked very hard to gain an admirable grasp of the chemical principles which underly the sensation of wine.

With this knowledge, she has created a series of symbols which she then translated into rational, but mystical, prints.

My first response was one of disappointment. It all seemed to be too sparse, minimalist and cerebral. The works themselves are uncluttered and crisp, demonstrating a high level of print-making skill.


White wine

White wine

However, just as with the tasting of an unfamiliar wine, each print began to reveal its quiet secrets as a series of naive questions in my mind:

Red wine with fruity bouquet?

Puzzling complexity?

Ascending and dividing?

Grassy white wine with intense acidity?

Bouquet ambivalent?

And so on ...



In an oddly obsessive way, I found myself going back and forth between prints with analytical thoughts flashing through my mind.

It was an intellectual reaction to a series of crisp questions, delivered with printed precision, and I enjoyed it.

What would have improved the experience?

For such well-rendered and subtle prints, the reflection of the white fluoros in the glass covering the images was a major distraction for me. I would really have liked to view these thought-provoking prints in sympathetic lighting.

I know that there was an intentional omission of titles for each print with the idea of provoking attempts by the viewer to decipher the semiotics, but I would have liked titles. In fact, had the details of a particular wine been appended as labels to each work, I would have been teased.

Following on from that, perhaps a wine tasting could have accompanied the event.

The works by Carol Perkins will be on exhibition at the Science Exchange until 11th September

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